SALT LAKE CITY — Five Utes finished in double-figure scoring in Utah’s 86-64 victory over No. 25 ranked USC Thursday night, led by guard Devon Daniels with 17 points. Forward Kyle Kuzma finished with a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Despite trailing 10-0 early, the Utes, according to guard Sedrick Barefield, never panicked.
“We were getting good looks, putting more of an emphasis on the rebounding and continuing to lock down defensively,” he explained. “They were making some tough shots and some shots that we shouldn’t have let them have, but we just stuck to what the coaches were telling us to do.”
The Utes quickly erased the Trojans' lead and pulled ahead for the rest of the game at the midway mark of the first half. By halftime, with a 44-31 advantage, the Utes had USC down-and-out.
Why the Utes won
Like a sedan parked outside on a sunny July day, the Utes got hot. After “getting punched in the mouth” early in the game, according to Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak, Utah responded by locking down on defense and making shots.
At halftime, David Collette, Daniels and Kuzma each had 10 points and shot a combined 11 for 19. With a 13-point lead at halftime, the Utes cruised to the 86-64 victory.
The turning point
Devon Daniels knocked down a 3-pointer with 10:04 left in the first half. This shot came after four lead changes and gave the Utes the edge for the rest of the game.
What it means
Should they not win the Pac-12 tournament in March, the Utes are going to have to earn an at-large bid to make their way into the NCAA tournament this year. Every signature win is going to be crucial in building a strong résumé for the selection committee. Strong performances against both L.A. teams this week will go a long way in helping the Utes’ tournament case.
Barefield was great in the Utes’ victory. He shot a solid 4 for 6 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point land. Also, with two assists, two steals and zero turnovers, he did a more than serviceable job controlling the ball and dominating his matchup.
Grading the performances
A great night of shooting by the Utes carried them to the win. Teams that shoot over 50 percent from both the field and beyond the arc are hard to beat on a nightly basis. The Utes also dominated the inside game, scoring 38 points in the paint.
It was a great night for the Utes, other than the 10-0 early deficit.
The Trojans led the game for 8:41, and made things difficult for Utah in the early going. Unfortunately for USC, it quickly lost its advantage to the Utes and were down by 20 or so for a large part of the 30:56 that Utah had the lead.
Foward Chimezie Metu scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, but the rest of the Trojans shot a lowly 16 for 50.
Three telling stats
The Utes made it rain from outside the arc, shooting a red-hot 52.9 percent from downtown, as compared to a decent 37.5 percent by USC.
The paint belonged to Utah Thursday night, with the Utes outscoring the Trojans 38-24 down low.
The turnover stats were nearly identical with the Utes surrendering the ball 11 times and the Trojans losing control 10 times. However, Utah was much more opportunistic on the counterattack, scoring 18 points off turnovers as compared to just seven for USC.
The Utes face a bigger challenge Saturday when fourth-ranked UCLA visits the Huntsman Center.